When Duke and Carolina graduates pick up their diplomas this spring, a select group of them will have boldly gone where few have gone before-deep into the uncharted territory of that other campus. The radical idea that students at each university can benefit from the offerings of the other and build ties of collaboration-even friendship-was the brainchild of Julian Robertson ’55.
Julian’s classmate Ned Hardison ’55 wasn’t alone in his first reaction to the Robertson Scholars program. “I thought it was the craziest idea I ever heard,” Ned recalled. “I didn’t think it would work, but Julian was light years ahead of the rest of us. It has been a huge success, with much credit to his vision about what the rest of us are shortsighted about.”
The four-year-old program is certainly a tremendous success. Transported between the campuses on buses tactfully painted in both shades of blue, the Robertson Scholars are bringing about Julian’s vision: the larger communities of Carolina and Duke exchanging ideas, getting together for cultural events, using each other’s libraries, and working together to build academic and social bonds between the campuses. Getting on that bus has become a cool thing to do.
Successful as the Robertson Scholars program is, though, it’s far from the only gift Julian and Josie have given the University. Both have served on the UNC Board of Visitors. Just recently, they built more ties with Duke by contributing half the endowment for the Nannerl O. Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professorship at the two universities. Julian served on the GAA Board of Directors. He endowed an MBA fellowship in the business school, served as executive in residence there, and has worked tirelessly on behalf of the National Development Council and the Medical Foundation.
A native of Salisbury, Julian was a business major as an undergraduate at Carolina. By his own admission, academics weren’t his strong point. He made a lot of friends at Carolina, but he was, he says, not much interested in studying. Friends such as Billy Armfield ’56 recall that though he was clearly a very bright guy in his undergraduate days, nobody would have predicted he’d go on to be as successful as he has. Like the rest of us, Billy recalls, Julian enjoyed the life of Chapel Hill and all that entailed.
“Yet,” says Paul Fulton ’57, “he succeeded beyond any benchmark I know of. He roomed with my brother-in-law and judging from the clothes stacked up in his room, his clothing bill must have been enormous and his cleaning bill must have been zero. He started out extravagant, and I guess he had to figure out how to meet his needs.”
Julian does credit Carolina with giving him a very good understanding of accounting. It might be too much to claim that he learned here all he needed to manage what became the world’s largest hedge fund, but he believes that those accounting courses he somehow squeezed in were an important foundation for his future success.
Though the wizard of Wall Street now devotes more time to golf and good wine than to bulls and bears, he remains deeply involved in providing aid for outstanding students at Carolina, in the inner cities, and elsewhere. He has for several decades now been a generous and stalwart supporter of education.
As many know, it was when they had one son at Duke and another at Carolina-a third son went to Lynn University-that Julian and Josie decided to improve communication between the two campuses. Julian has given to Carolina in many ways over many years, and his acumen as a financial manager is legendary. But perhaps his most pioneering and influential creation is symbolized by that bus, the bus that’s closing the gap between two universities with much to offer each other’s students.
Julian has great love for Carolina, Billy Armfield says, and he would like to see it be the leading public university in the country. The Robertson Scholars program attracts the kind of student leaders who can help make that possible.
Julian Robertson is widely known as a great guy and a great friend of the University and the state. As Paul Fulton says, even though he lives in New York, Julian doesn’t forget his friends, and he doesn’t forget his roots.